‘On the Verge’ brings gospel to Clayton Center

The Clayton Center for the Arts has made a very intentional effort to bring all kinds of music to the Center, particularly through its series “Friday Night Live.”

On Friday night, Aug. 13, On the Verge, a bluegrass gospel group, will perform in the Harold and Jean Lambert Recital Hall. The gospel group will share their music and stories with Clayton audiences.

On the Verge has been together for eight years and includes Chuck Murphy, tenor; Virgil Long, lead singer and guitar; Lewell Molen, lead guitar; and Phil Ledbetter, dobro.

Having Ledbetter playing with the group is an honor for his bandmates. Ledbetter has eight times been the International Bluegrass Music Association dobro player of the year.

Virgil Long grew up in Blount County and has done some serious traveling. For over 30 years he has been a railroad engineer mainly in East Tennessee ,but special assignments in Chicago and South Carolina only broadens his personal experiences. So when he sings about trains, it's from the heart.

Tenor singer Chuck Murphy is a hometown hero. Chuck has been a regional salesman for a local company for 30 years. He is very well known to many local citizens. When he graduated from high school, he was chosen by the New York Yankees to play professional baseball.

Lewell Molen, a third founding member of the group, grew up in Ohio and Indiana but has been in Blount County for many years. He has toured with world famous performers in Nashville and appeared on the Grand Ole Opry and numerous national television shows.

More than their musical gifts, however, the band plays to express their Christian religious beliefs, and that is clear in the songs they sing and the stories they tell.

Their program will include such beloved favorites as “Purple Robe,” “House of Gold,” “The Old Rugged Cross,” and “I’ll Fly Away.”

“ Old-timey gospel is something that belongs at the Clayton Center for the Arts as much as jazz or chamber music,” says CCA director Robert Hutchens. “The Center was built for celebrations of our region and its people. The quartets and trios found in little churches in the foothills number in the scores. Bluegrass gospel is very much an expression of who we are here in Appalachia. This is an artistic and cultural event as well as a message of belief.”

On the Verge is the third in this series of four Friday Night Live events. Preceding them has been a Native American flute player accompanied by a KSO cellist, and local favorites Pistol Creek Catch of the Day followed last week.

On Aug. 20, the second series of four Fridays will end with Trevor Finlay. Finlay is a rock singer with Nashville roots and is also a songwriter and guitarist. An award-winning Canadian native, Finlay is known for his wry sense of humor and his musical playfulness as he bridges roots rock with country and the heart of a jam band.

Finlay’s concert is at 8 p.m. on Friday, Aug. 20, in the Lambert Recital Hall. Ticket prices are $8.

The Friday Night Live series will probably continue to be irregularly regular. There is one scheduled for October featuring jazz and swing, and Hutchens hopes for one in the winter.

Tickets are $8, and guests are encouraged to purchase tickets in advance by calling 865-981-8590 or online at www.claytonartscenter.com.

However, tickets are available at the door. Patrons are advised to come early to buy tickets. Show time is 8 p.m.

The Clayton Center is on the Maryville College campus on Highway 321 East.

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